Our school uniform was a grey pleated skirt, white shirt, white socks, blue and red striped tie, grey blazer and a stupid straw hat with a red ribbon round it. It was not a posh school but it had pretensions. We all hated those hats. It did not mean a spanking to turn up without it occasionally but you had better not make a habit of it! Rebecca and I had to wear it every day because we lived quite near the school so if we turned up incorrectly attired we would be sent home to change.

In the summer term, after Easter until the summer holidays we were allowed to wear a blue and white checked cotton dress instead of the full uniform, if we chose. However, the hat was not optional and we had to wear it all year round. The hats became the subject of a doomed protest in 1973 when going on strike was all the rage. Some 3rd year girls attempted to bring all the girls out on strike until the hats were abolished. A lot of girls, me and Beccy included, stayed out on the netball court when the bell for the end of lunch went, all willing to join the strike and see the end of the silly hats.

The Headmistress and a posse of teachers came out to see what was happening, took away the ringleaders to be caned and the strike was effectively quelled, and we went back to our classes without any more trouble. In the excitement, though, the ringleader, a girl called Claire, had stamped on and destroyed her hat, encouraging a few excitable girls (but not me, thankfully) to do the same. My sister was one of these. Miss Percival, the Headmistress, told everyone before we went back to class that anyone turning up the next day without a hat would be seen in her office. There were about 7 or 8 girls with trashed hats feeling very sheepish indeed.

I wanted to tell Mum all about it when I got home, but Rebecca promised me a great deal of pain if I told on her. When we got home, Rebecca pleaded with Mum to take her to the shop and get a new hat. She said it had blown off in the wind and been run over by a car. Mum said she would go and get her one tomorrow and that she was sure the teachers would understand if she told them what had happened, but Beccy was almost in tears, insisting that she would be in trouble and that we had a warning in assembly about wearing the correct uniform. She was very convincing; even I almost believed her. Eventually Mum was persuaded and I was left to peel potatoes for tea, as Mum’s routine had been interrupted, while they headed off to the school uniform shop in town.

The shop that stocked uniforms for all the local schools also stocked essential supplies for teachers, such as exercise books, stationery, pens, etc. They also stocked other items as I am sure you can imagine what I am about to describe.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly what happened at the shop, I wasn’t there and Rebecca was reluctant to talk about it, but when they came back half an hour later, Beccy was wearing a new hat and Mum was carrying a cane. They walked straight past me in the kitchen without a word, and straight up the stairs to my bedroom.

As usual, I sneaked up behind them to near the top of the stairs to listen and I had only just got there when I heard the first stroke. There had been no preamble or lecture. I presume that all the talking had already been done. There had been barely time for Mum to get Beccy in position and bare her bum before she started the caning. She gave my sister ten strokes and, judging by the screaming, they must have been pretty hard. I was not allowed to see my sister until bedtime and she never came down to tea. I asked Mum why she had caned Beccy and she told me what I already knew, that she had deliberately destroyed her hat and lied about it and that buying brand new things to replace things that had been deliberately damaged was not something she took lightly.

What I did find out, through my investigations, was that my sister was relieved that she would not be seeing the Headmistress and would have a new hat, but suspicions were aroused and eventually confirmed when several other mums and their daughters turned up at the shop to replace ‘accidentally’ damaged hats. They soon got to the bottom of it, and to the bottoms of their daughters, as Mum said she was not the only mum to buy a cane that afternoon.